Friday, March 3, 2017

The Road Less Traveled

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico 2015
"Can I get you something to drink?" The 50-ish, red-headed, flight attendant had a bottle of red wine in her left hand and a bottle of white wine in her right.
"PLEASE!" I held out the wine glass from my tray-table.
International red-eye?  Check! 
Boys already asleep? Check! 
The vacation has officially started!
I took a big gulp of red wine as the plane was taking off.
"Flight time will be 4-hours and 37 minutes," said the captain's voice.
"We'd better get some rest while they're asleep," said Brian, looking at Miles and Justin in the seats next to us and pulling his blanket around his shoulders.
I scooted past Brian the moment the fasten-seatbelt sign was turned off, "I'll be right back."
I loved the glow of the fluorescent lighting in the airplane bathroom.  Closing the door firmly and locking it into place gave me a feeling of excitement and safety (as did my full bottle of Ambien).  I rattled it before I opened the cap and plopped one into the palm of my hand.
Better take two.  5-hours is a long flight.  
Actually, it's only 4 1/2 hours.
Well, 4 1/2 hours is five hours by the time we get to the gate and everything...
I emptied a second, small, white oval into my hand and popped them both into my mouth, washing them down with airplane, bathroom-sink water.
Brian woke me as we were landing.  Groggily, I woke up the boys and retrieved my luggage from the overhead.  After what seemed like an hour of standing up in the aisle of the plane, holding all of our stuff, we finally began to move.  I wobbled slightly down the jet way as I held Justin on my hip with one arm and rolled my carry-on behind me with my free hand.
Oy! Did I bring Advil?
I perked up as soon as I saw the short, sun-browned ladies at the gate with the trays of tequila shots.
What time is it here?  10:00am?
Two shots later, we picked up our luggage and got into the hotel-sent SUV.
My next memory is leaving the boys in the room with our nanny, walking to the little beach bar and sitting down in front of a huge margarita.
One giant slurp in, and suddenly a sharp-edged, notion sliced it's way into the back of my mind.
Hey Laura, maybe that's enough.  You've been going for almost 12 hours now. Think about what you're doing. You're missing these moments with your family.
I shook my head.  The notion was both intrusive and irritating.  We had dinner at 6:00 and then after-dinner drinks in the bar.  We weren't getting back on a plane for 7-more days.  The huge margarita was OBVIOUSLY not enough.  The thought was annoying. Vacations were drinking not thinking.  My goal was to look at all of the amazing pictures of this vacation afterward and see how much I could remember.  Raising two small boys 21-months apart was hard.  Packing for this trip was hard.  Entertaining two small boys 24/7 was hard.
I deserve a break. I deserve THIS break.

*   *   *

"Can I speak to the concierge please?"
My heart beat sped up as I waited.
Why does this call still make me nervous after all this time?
"This is John, the concierge."
"Hi John, my name is Laura Robbins.  My boyfriend, Scottie and I are checking in a few days.  I have a couple of requests."
"Sure, Mrs. Robbins. What can I do for you?"
"Um, we don't drink, so it would be great if there is some kind of welcome/arrival gift, could it not be alcohol?"
"Of course, that's no problem, do you like chocolate?"
Love chocolate!!!
"Yes, chocolate is great! Thank you."
Okay, thats one down.
"Also, can you please have the alcohol emptied out of the mini-bar and replaced with Evian?"
"We have Fiji water.  Is that okay?"
"Yes, Fiji water is perfect.
I took a deep breath.  My right foot was shaking nervously back and forth, my flip-flop fell off.
"Okay, last thing.  Can you please look up recovery meetings in the area for us and email me ones that we can attend during our stay there?"
"Um, sure, I can locate those for you.  I have your email here on file. Will there be anything else?"
"No," I exhaled and observed as my foot stilled itself.  I reached down and replaced the flip-flop.
"That's all.  Thank you, so much."

*  *  *

My second year in recovery I heard a woman share that the first thing that she did any time she traveled anywhere was to look up meetings.  Two-weeks later, 4 of my non-alcoholic girlfriends and I were scheduled to depart on a cruise to Mexico with our kids.  I went back to the woman who shared and asked her exactly how to locate meetings on a cruise ship.
"Darling it's easy,"she purred.  "Just look for 'Friends of Bill' on the ship's daily schedule."
"Really?  Friend's of Bill?  Like some secret society?"
She patted me on the hip and winked at me with her long, mink lashes.
"Yes! Kind of exciting, isn't it?"

I searched nervously for "Friend's of Bill" on the schedule after we'd found our state-rooms.  I hoped that no one would ask if I needed help.  I wasn't prepared to talk to some random, Nickelodeon Cruise-ship purser about my recovery.
I don't see it! Maybe all ships don't have it.
The following day I got up early and went down to get coffee.  While I was waiting, I checked the schedule again and I almost yelped out loud.  I did a little fist pump and then looked around to make sure that I hadn't been observed.  There it was:

Friend's of Dr. Bob and Bill W.
5:30 in the Stars and Stripes Conference room.

The secret society here in plain sight!

After that, at 5:20pm every day of the 4-day cruise,  I would deposit my kids with my friends and race up to the conference room.

The fact that no one ever showed up to join me was beside the point.  I figured it was enough that I was making the effort.

*   *   *

Two year's ago when I called the property outside of Cancun where we were staying for 6-nights, the concierge assured me in heavily accented English, that he would take care of my "no alcohol" request and make arrangements for English speaking meetings.   I was crestfallen when our "welcomer"  presented us with margaritas as we arrived at the resort.
"Oh! No thank you," we both said, handing them back.  "We don't drink."
I saw his face change with sudden recognition.  He rushed forward and placed the frosty drinks back on their tray.
"Mrs. Robbins, Mr. Slaughter!  My apologies!  I am Raphael, the one you spoke with on the phone.  We were supposed to have special drinks for you." He spoke rapid-fire Spanish to a young woman in a long apron who disappeared quickly with a slight bow in our direction.
"Please, come this way," Raphael continued.  "They will bring your bags."
Scottie and I looked at each other and put our bags down.
Raphael was wearing what seemed to be standard issue in at Maroma, white, short-sleeved button-down shirt and stiff, shin-length brown shorts with huarache sandals.
"Your room is this way," he said.  "I have printed out the meeting list you requested.  You'll be happy to see that there are many meetings nearby.  But there is one, I want to show you especially."
He was strolling in front of us, his long, brown arms pushing aside the low-hanging jungle plants as we followed him down the narrow path.
Suddenly he turned and faced us, "This one," he handed Scottie a piece of paper.
"What's this?" Scottie took off his sunglasses and squinted at the paper.  The sun was setting rapidly.  Jungle birds whooped loudly to each other all around us.  Two young boys whooshed by us with bare feet lighting the torches that stood along our path.
"That," he said still pointing to a name on the piece of paper, "is the meeting where my parents met 30-years ago.  They both still go to that meeting."
"Your parents are sober?"
Just then, the young woman in the apron returned with two drinks in margarita glasses.
"No alcohol!" he said, waving his hand as though he were casting a magic spell to make the drinks alcohol free. "Please, try."
"Delicious," said Scottie after trying his.
He was right, it was mango.
Or is it papaya?
It was so fruity and refreshing, I realized how thirsty I was after the first sip.
"So your parents met at a meeting?" I said wiping my mouth with a cloth napkin that the aproned-woman handed me.
He told us the whole, lovely story of how his parents saw each other there and fell instantly in love.  He spoke lovingly of recovery.  Although he, himself, did not have the same "allergy," he told us that he had grown up in meetings.  Scottie and I both had tears glistening in our eyes when he was finished.
"Thank you, Raphael."
"Anything you need while you are here," he said grabbing both of my hands in his.  "You let me know. I will personally take care of it"

*   *   *

Last year, Dean, the concierge at The Loews in San Francisco, had a print-out of local meetings ready for us when we checked in.
Dean wore a hotel-issued blazer, shirt and tie.  His manicure was gleaming as he went over the  meeting list with us.
"The ones I circled here are all within 10 minutes of the hotel by foot".
"Thank you, Dean!" I said.

We were headed out to the R&G Lounge for dinner that night, a place where Dean had highly recommended the salt and pepper crab.

"I'm telling you - it's amazing because they cover the entire crab in this scrumptious salt and pepper mixture and then deep fry the whole thing, shell and all! You've never had anything like it!  And you MUST try the dessert there.  They have this amazing cake..."

"Mrs. Robbins, Mr. Slaughter?"
Scottie and I stopped just short of the automatic double doors.  I pulled my cloth coat tighter around my neck. The wind howled and clawed at the hem of my thin dress.
Oh my God! It's freezing! Scottie's going to have to hail the cab while I wait inside!
"Yes, Dean?" I said as shivered/walked back over toward the front desk.
"You know the dessert that I recommended to you?"
"Oh!  The cake?"
"Ahhh yes!" He licked his full lips, his round eyes seemed to glaze over with the memory of its lusciousness.
"This cake is to die for!  But I checked the ingredients, and unfortunately the sauce has brandy."
"Oh, that's okay, Dean," I said, setting my purse down on his counter. "We'll just get something else. But thank you so much for checking, that's really sweet."
His grew big with horror.
"NO! You MUST try this cake!  I insist."
I opened my mouth to explain that if it had brandy in it, we actually couldn't "just try it."
"You see Dean," Scottie interjected.  "We can't have anything with alcohol.  We're allergic to it."
Dean smiled widely and opened his arms as though he wanted to embrace both of us.
"That is precisely why I called ahead and spoke with their pastry chef.  They're going to make it special for you two, no brandy."
He gave Scottie a long, appreciative look and then winked at him.
"I really don't want you all to miss out on that cake! Now let me get you the house car to take you to R&G. It's absolutely bone-chilling outside!"

*   *   *

In July of this year, Scottie and I had booked a week's vacation on a small, Caribbean island called, Anguilla.  A couple of weeks before the trip, I called ahead and did my usual shpiel with the Viceroy concierge:

"Chocolate instead of alcohol for our welcome gift would be great, please clear the mini-bar and replace with bottled water and if we could get a local-meeting list..."

"Oh," she interrupted me.  "I'm afraid, Mrs. Robbins, that there aren't any meetings like that here."
"What?  really?"
What do you mean NO meetings.  That can't be right!  Does that mean there are no people in recovery?
"Yes,  I'm happy to check again, but someone asked a few months ago and I checked for them.  We found that there are no meetings here on this island. But there are meetings on St. Martin, the next island over.  I'd be happy to find out about meetings there for you."
"Oh, okay," I said.  I could hear the sound of my own disappointment, "Sure, I'll get that list from you."
"I'll be emailing you shortly then," she said in her soft, British accent.
I was just telling Scottie the odd news about Anguilla not having meetings when the phone rang in my hand.
"It's the Viceroy," I said, looking up at Scott.
"Mrs. Robbins?" It was the soft, British voice again.
"As it turns out, someone may have left a note with us for you."
"Left a note?  A note for me?"
"Well, perhaps," she laughed.  "Here, let me read it to you:

"Please have any of your guests who are looking for a meeting, email Zoe.  I will be happy to make the arrangements.  Below, please find Zoe's contact information.

"Oh wow! That's great!" I said.  "Thank you so much."
"I will forward you the information now, Mrs. Robbins."

There were a series of emails between Zoe and I up between then and the day that we arrived:

"Dear Laura, we alternate locations between our homes so I can let you know where the meeting will be and meet you somewhere easy to find if you have a car.  We don't use addresses here, so it would hard to direct a taxi.  If you don't have a car, my friend Vivianne said she'd be happy to pick you up at The Viceroy."

"Thank you so much, Zoe!  We're very much looking forward to meeting you on Monday.  And thank you to Vivianne for offering to pick us up! Scottie and I will be waiting in front of the hotel at 9:00am."

On our third day in Anguilla while we waited for Vivianne, Scottie asked me what we were "walking into."
"I'm not sure!" I laughed.  "But isn't it cool that they're picking us up?"
"So how far away is this meeting?"Scottie's voice caught sharply on "is".  He had turned a deep, buttery brown since we'd arrived.  His blue eyes shone against the bright sun. I looked to see if maybe there were tears in them.  He hadn't cried since we'd arrived there.  As if sensing my thoughts, he put his sunglasses on.
"I'm not sure," I said.  "They don't have addresses apparently."
"So it's at this woman's house?"
I thought his tone had an edge.  His mom, Nancy was losing her battle with stage-four ovarian cancer (see my blog post, The Thaw).  He had just been with her the week prior and he was going to see her right after our trip, but he was still ill at ease about being so far away from her.  We'd talked several times about cutting the trip short, but Nancy wouldn't hear of it. "No, now you two just enjoy yourselves."
I shook my head.  "Not the woman who's coming to pick us up.  This is another woman.  Someone who goes to this meeting."
"What do you know about them?"
"Not much," I said.  "Only that they don't have regular meetings and they're putting this one together for us."
"Maybe this isn't the best idea," his voice was definitely edgy now.  "I mean, we're just going to show up at someone's house..."
I reached over to grab his hand in mine and threaded my fingers through his.
"I wonder what they'll look like?" I said, changing the subject.
He didn't respond, so I continued.
"I wonder if they're that gorgeous, deep, brown color like most of the other Anguillans we've seen."
I looked admiringly over at the rich, brown skin-tones of the two bellman who were also waiting outside the hotel.
Minutes past in silence and Scottie closed his eyes and leaned the back of his head against the hot, porous bricks behind us.  I opened my mouth to say something  "cheery" and then closed it.
Let him be.
Shortly afterward, an older blue Volvo came noisily down the long, dusty hotel driveway.  We both stood up and peered into the driver's side window.
A lovely, short-haired, White woman leaned out and smiled widely.
"Are you Laura?"
Vivianne was lovely.  She was Dutch and lived both in Europe and in Anguilla.  She chatted easily about the virtues and disadvantages of island living.  15-minutes later we pulled up in front of a one-story wooden house with a big, front yard and a wrap-around front porch.
"Here we are!"
We walked in and there was another 60-ish White woman inside.  I knew it was Zoe instantly.  She had a snow, white shag cut and icy blue eyes that peeked out from her bangs.  It was obvious by the way she puttered around, that this was her house.  Scottie and I followed Vivianne into the open-plan living room/kitchen area.
"Welcome," said Zoe, giving us a stiff hug.  "I'm so glad you could make it.  There is a fresh pot of coffee if you want, but I don't know if maybe you want it iced.  It's an oven in here!"
She wiped her forehead with a cloth she kept in the back pocket of her jeans and indicated a steaming, glass coffee pot that sat surrounded by mis-matched coffee mugs.
Two more White women arrived.  One of them had brought pastries.  They were both from the US, like Zoe.
So much for the brown-skinned Anguillans I expected!
I looked at Scottie to see if I could tell how he was feeling.  He seemed to be a slightly guarded version of his normal, charming self.
"We're from Los Angeles, I heard him telling Claire, the tall one.  "We'll be here for a few more days."
"Well," Zoe looked around.  "This is everyone."

We sat down and started the meeting with a moment of silence, then they started to share.  All of them shared about their children.  Each one of them talked about getting older.  Every share contained  loving words about each other ("I don't know what I'd do without these three!").  One of them cried during her share and the others let her (as is our custom).  When she was finished sharing, she was handed a tissue and given warm nods and an arm squeeze.
When it came Scottie's turn to share he was so quiet that, for a moment, I thought he might not share at all. Then finally, after what seemed like minutes of us all sitting there in silence, he expressed some general gratitude for their hospitality.  A sentiment which brought nods and smiles from the women.  He was just about to pass the sharing to me when his eyes suddenly flooded with tears.
"My mom is dying."
Suddenly the air in the room got thick and still.  Claire and Zoe leaned in toward Scott.  I put my hand on his bicept.
"And I feel so helpless," he continued, gently removing my hand.  "Because I'm here, and I can't really join Laura in enjoying this incredible island.  I can't really enjoy anything without feeling this huge guilt because I'm not in Richmond with my mom."
Scottie talked tearily for about ten more minutes.  Vivianne handed him tissues when he cried.  They all listened.  Claire wept silently.  No one spoke a word until he was finished.

Once we closed the meeting with the serenity prayer, those four "mamas" sprung into action, circling him and comforting him.  Scottie looked up at me, from the middle of them at one point and nodded at me with a slight smile.
We walked back out on to the porch and hour and half after we'd arrived.  The wind had blown the clouds in front of the sun.  The sky looked heavy with rain.

"Thank you, Scottie," said Claire.

"Good luck, you two..."

"You're a wonderful son, Scott.  I'm sure your mama knows how much you love her," Zoe hugged him tightly.

"Please come back and see us."

Scottie and I walked the beach after Vivianne dropped us back off at the hotel. He held my hand in his, looking off into the horizon.
"It really is beautiful here, Hon."
"I know," I felt tears warming the back of my eyes.
He stopped and turned to face me, the warm waves lapping at his ankles.
"Thank you," he said.  "I needed that today."

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